Contributor

Jenny Phillips

Cultural anthropologist, writer, and psychiatric nurse

Jenny Phillips is a cultural anthropologist, writer, and psychiatric nurse. For over 15 years, Phillips has managed and provided services in the mental health department of a large medical center in Concord, MA. Her specialties include crisis intervention, family therapy, behavioral medicine, and hypnotherapy.

Over the past 10 years, she has worked with men in both state and county prisons, teaching courses on emotional literacy skills. Based upon her experiences working with prisoners and recording their lives behind bars, Phillips wrote an article, "Culture of Manhood in Prison," which was published in 2002 by the American Psychological Association journal, Psychology of Men and Masculinity.

In 2008, Phillips released a documentary film, The Dhamma Brothers. The film, produced and directed by Phillips, tells the story of a group of prisoners inside a maximum-security prison in Alabama participating in a 10-day intensive meditation program based on the 2600-year old teachings of the Buddha. By portraying this intimate and personal journey among prison inmates, many of them serving life sentences and others life without parole, the film serves as a vehicle to raise public awareness about the potential for personal transformation among prisoners.

Since its release in 2008, The Dhamma Brothers has received recognition in film festivals, including several awards. In 2008, The Dhamma Brothers played in movie theatres throughout the U.S., receiving positive reviews from major papers: “Intriguing—fierce irony and dark hope—powerful honesty and clarity.” (Los Angeles Times) “Mind boggling.” (San Francisco Chronicle) “This provocative film candidly documents the mixed emotions and institutional conflicts aroused by the introduction of a Buddhist practice in a predominantly Christian prison.” (New York Times).

While working on the film, Phillips collected more than 200 letters from the Alabama prisoners documenting their lives in prison and their quest for inner peace. These collected letters were published in 2008 by Pariyatti Press as Letters From the Dhamma Brothers. Publication of the book led to an interview with Oprah Winfrey on Oprah’s Soul Series broadcast on Oprah & Friends Radio (XM 156 & SIRIUS 195), and a web cast on Oprah.com. As part of this hour-long program, through a phone hook-up with the prison, Oprah interviewed two of the Dhamma Brothers. In 2008, Letters From the Dhamma Brothers received an award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

In 2002, Phillips and her husband, Frank, The Boston Globe’s State House bureau chief, initiated a project in Cuba to restore the Cuban home and extensive documents of Ernest Hemingway. This historic project served as a unique shared endeavor sanctioned by both the U.S. and Cuban governments during a time of heightened political conflict. Jenny is the granddaughter of legendary editor Maxwell Perkins, who was both editor and close friend to Ernest Hemingway.

Through this ongoing collaborative work with the Cuban government, over 2,000 letters and documents, 3,000 photographs, and a 9,000-book library, all of which remained in Cuba after Hemingway’s death in 1961, are being restored for posterity. The documents, which include early, handwritten manuscript fragments from For Whom the Bell Tolls, had previously been inaccessible to scholars. The historic agreement, signed by Fidel Castro at a ceremony at Hemingway’s home in Cuba, Finca Vigia, has culminated in the addition to the Hemingway Collection at the Kennedy Library of microfilmed copies of the extensive collection of documents from Hemingway’s Cuban villa.

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